San Francisco is suing its own school district to force it to reopen

The last time you likely heard about San Francisco’s school district was when they decided to rename dozens of schools over concerns their namesakes, including Abraham Lincoln, were not woke enough. Mayor London Breed said at the time that she couldn’t understand why the district was spending time and energy on renaming schools when it had no plan to reopen them.

Today the San Francisco Chronicle reports the city is taking things up a notch. The City Attorney is expected to announce today that he will sue the city’s own school district over its lack of a clear reopening plan.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, with the blessing of Mayor London Breed, plans to sue the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District for violating a state law compelling districts to adopt a clear plan during the COVID-19 pandemic describing actions they “will take to offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible.”…

The city attorney will file a motion Feb. 11 asking the San Francisco Superior Court to issue an emergency order compelling the district to formulate a reopening plan with the aim, he said in an interview, of “getting kids back in school as quickly as possible.” He must file Wednesday’s lawsuit before requesting the preliminary injunction seeking immediate action.

“It’s a shame it has come to this,” Herrera said. “The Board of Education and the school district have had more than 10 months to roll out a concrete plan to get these kids back in school. So far they have earned an F. Having a plan to make a plan doesn’t cut it.”

Just like in Chicago, the district had a plan to bring back special needs kids in January followed by a wider reopening this month. But that plan was scuttled after the teacher’s union got involved:

“The district cannot meet all of the new requirements SFUSD’s labor unions have proposed, and there is not sufficient time to complete bargaining in order to reopen any school sites on Jan. 25,” the district said in an online statement…

Mayor London Breed called the announcement “infuriating.”

“I can’t imagine how hard this is for our families and for our young people who haven’t been in the classroom since March and are falling further behind every single day,” she said in a written statement. “We should not be creating a false choice between education and a safe return to classrooms.”

Unions involved have continued to slow-walk reopening plans, passing around a list of a dozen requirements they are demanding be met before they will return. The Chronicle reports that a group calling themselves Strike Ready are trying to convince teachers to strike if the district forces them back into classrooms before they have all received the vaccine.

Practically speaking, the lawsuit won’t impact what the unions are doing, but it can light a fire under the district, forcing them to push back on the unions demands and at least set up a timeline for reopening. It may push teachers into a strike but, after 11 months without in-person classes, anything is better than the soft strike that is going on now.

Many students are falling far behind with remote learning. So long as teachers refuse to return to classrooms the impact on students will compound. Remote learning just isn’t cutting it for a lot of kids. Teachers didn’t ask to be in this position so it’s not their fault that we’re here, but at this point it is their fault for making things worse if they refuse to return to schools until the fall.

At the root of all of this is the fear of getting COVID. That’s understandable and last year when we knew a lot less about the virus it was also reasonable. But things have changed. There is plenty of evidence from the CDC and others that classrooms can be made as safe or safer than the communities around them. Unions ought to be embracing those findings and helping ease fears instead of using them to force concessions and delay reopening. It’s time to start moving forward again.